Category Archives: Demons

Don’t Kill It 2016

For anyone who liked action cinema in the eighties Dolph Lundgren will always have a special place in our hearts, even if he did kill Apollo Creed. An absolutely enormous specimen of humanity (especially standing opposite tiny little Sylvester Stallone) he may have started out as a spiky blonde killing machine but by the end of Rocky IV as he found respect for the Italian Stallion so we found respect for him.

Lundgren may have never have had the career of fellow European beefcakes Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme but even after the underrated (or overrated, it is hard to tell) stab at the big league Masters of the Universe, Lundgren has never stopped working. Looking at IMDb he has 84 credits to his name. Don’t Kill It maybe his latest vehicle to be released but he has nine movies coming up since completing this one. Nine. The guy never stops.

If anything Lundgren had grown into his looks as a B movie star. He may well be 59 but he still has the body of of a man half his age, and unlike some of his other peers he clearly hasn’t had any surgery so his face has a cool weathered look to it. I’m not saying he’s Clint Eastwood or anything but… okay I’m saying he’s a Swedish Clint Eastwood. Fuck it.

Don’t Kill It casts Dolph as a mean Southern demon hunting cowboy. He sleeps in his truck and has an unhealthy relationship with his modified, web-shooting shotgun. He also knows a thing or two about capturing demons, having done it since he was a lil’ boy with his pa. What’s great here is that Lundgren actually has a fairly decent stab at doing a southern accent which he just about pulls off. (Did Schwarzenegger ever try to do any accent other than his own?) Lundgren’s character is as old fashioned a trope as you can get, all one liners and fingers up to authority. His only nod to the modern world is the pipe he smokes is electronic, and even then he seems to smoke it in peoples faces to annoy them.

The twist of the tale is in the demon itself. It can possess anyone who has just killed the body it is currently possessing. Hence the one thing you can do is the title of the film: Don’t Kill It. This makes for a tricky situation if the demon turns up and started killing everyone else in the room.Fortunately nobody listens to Lundgren’s advice and we are subjected a huge amount of violence as the demon attacks people with axes, chainsaws or whatever is to hand and then gets shot by a local or a policeman, then possesses them and carries on the mayhem. If this was the real world here it would certainly be an argument for tighter gun control. So many Toms, Dicks and Harrys pull out their piece to down the killer demon that Lundgren can barely keep up with who the demon is inside next. Of course if this happened here in good old Blighty all this would be solved in about five minutes – a smack round the back of the head with a good old trusty truncheon and we’d have that demon doing bird in time for tea.

Lundgren is partnered with a female FBI agent who is cynical at first but is soon fighting alongside him and it occurred to me that what we have here is basically Lundgren Vs The Evil Dead rather than Ash. It even has a cabin in the woods that looks almost identical. Evil Dead nods are no bad thing. Especially when director Mike Mendez embraces so many practical gore effects. They are very much of the quick cut from live actor to rubber head exploding variety but what self regarding horror fan doesn’t love that? There are a few less successful visual effects but we can forgive them for that. This is horror action on a budget, they’re doing the best the can. The dialogue isn’t so great. There is far too much of it for one thing, although that’s not a big surprise in low budget film making. However, structurally the script is solid, building up to a decent and satisfying climax.

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Look, this isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a throwaway bit of Saturday night fun. But if you’ve always wanted Ivan Drago to do battle with the evil dead whilst smoking a pipe and doing his best to sound like he comes from Mississippi, then Don’t Kill It is the movie you’ve been waiting for.

The Conjuring 2 2016

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I first read the screenplay for The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist (as it was known then) when the company I was at was bidding to work on the effects. At the time I was struck by two things. One, that if we got it and I was to go on set to supervise then instead of some glamorous location I would be in grotty old Enfield, a miserable part of North London and home to my ex mother-in-law. It’s unlikely she would have invited me round for tea, which was at least something. And two, whilst the script was well written and solid it didn’t grab me as anything new or even that exciting.

It is well known that the screenplay is the foundation of any movie. If it isn’t a solid construction, the only thing the rest of the film can do is crash down around it. However, the screenplay isn’t the be all and end all of a production and The Conjuring 2 is a prime example of that. Okay, so it remains, as it did on page, a robustly constructed story with good dialogue (considering some of the exposition needed for such a film) and interesting lead characters. It also isn’t anything new, dealing with haunting in suburban homes and young girls getting possessed by demons, both of which have been done a hundred times before. However, what director James Wan and his team has brought to the screen supersedes what was written down in black and white. He has taken that basic foundation and built a castle on the top.

The Enfield Poltergeist is allegedly a true incident. A recently divorced mother and her four children are relentlessly tormented by a malevolent spirit, particularly the younger daughter, Janet, who may or may not be possessed by it. It takes psychic dynamic duo Ed and Lorraine Warren to fly in and solve the case and banish the demon back to hell, which isn’t much different from Enfield so I’m not sure why it bothered. When I say true I mean maybe bollocks. The Warrens actually didn’t get involved much, just turning up for a day unannounced before scuttling back to America. And even the film acknowledges that some of the photos of young Janet flying through the the air could just be her jumping.

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But The Conjuring 2 isn’t trying to be a historical document, it merely uses the “truth” to add an extra layer of fear to the proceedings. What this film is is a great ghost trainbat the fairground: you know where you’re going but it’s going to frighten the life it of you on the way.

The superstar of The Conjuring series is director James Wan. He said after the first film that he was through with horror but clearly the stress and strain of directing Fast and Furious 7 sent him back to the comfort of the genre he knows best. I was worried that his statement about being through with horror would mean he’d be phoning it in here for the cash, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Wan has long, incredibly clever tracking shots setting up the haunted house and it’s geography whilst at the same time developing the family in their environment. He uses the darkness and obscuring parts of walls and furniture to full effect, making you think there is something awful just out of sight (by the way – there usually is). He and his excellent crew also place a huge amount of attention to detail to recreate poverty stricken working class London in the nineteen seventies. This isn’t just as a faithful recreation of the events but also a way to increase the feeling of dread – the house is a ramshackle wreck of a property before anything supernatural happens. It’s like it is made to welcome ghosts.

It’s not all perfect though. They may have got posters of Purdey from The New Avengers on the wall just right but it’s really unlikely they would have had a colour television in a house like that, and no way in hell would they have had a remote control. Also is the house is a little TOO grim. With its flooded cellar and peeling mouldy walls it’s almost unbelievable that anyone could live there, but then maybe that’s the point.

There are other things that stand out like SImon McBurney playing local paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse. He looks like a comedy character from an old Dick Emery show. It’s hugely distracting. Look:

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However if you look at the real Grosse you realise that it’s a completely accurate portrayal afterall:

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One of my maths teachers at school sported the same look now I come to think of it. Oh and the London accents are all over the place, often sounding like characters from On The Buses in an attempt to capture that particular sound which has faded a bit nowadays. Weirdly the young American actor playing Janet, Madison Wolfe, pulls off the most convincing North London accent, and she’s only thirteen.

These are minor complaints. I really do hope they try something a bit different for the next movie, story wise, but this is such a well made horror film with such dedication from all involved that it is hard to criticise. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are back as the Warrens and both give it their all. Farmiga has the most to do with her wild visions and creepy trances, doing them without looking a bit daft is really quite a feat but she makes it look easy. However it’s the chemistry between the two of actors that makes them so compelling. I mean if you think about it, the Warrens are a middle aged couple who are basically weird social misfits with terrible clothes taste but Farmiga and Wilson commit themselves so much to their roles that it ends up feeling that they are the only thing protecting us from hell taking over the world. They may be oddballs but they know things we can’t ever know and should never want to.

That commitment runs throughout the rest of the cast and crew. There are hundreds of ropey ghost films about but none of them seem to put their all into making as good a piece of entertainment as The Conjuring movies. That goes for Warner Brothers too who are prepared to stump up a decent (but not over the top) amount of money to make a small intimate ghost story about a family and its protectors. No one is saying that The Conjuring films are completely original but they do show what can be done with a talented team given the resources to make as good a horror movie as they can do within the confines of the genre.

 

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Tales of Halloween 2015

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Here in the Queen’s country we don’t really don’t celebrate Halloween as much as our American cousins do. We think it’s all a bit crass and uncouth. Trick or treating is even worse as it seems like a desperate attempt to get money of strangers and we’d never been caught dead begging. Of course we’re completely missing the point. Dressing up as ghouls and goblins may well be crazy and weird but it’s as old a celebration as any in most societies, and more importantly it’s an excuse to dress up as SEXY ghouls and goblins. This isn’t a religious affair like Easter or even an overtly commercial one like Christmas has become. It’s about dressing up and having fun. That’s what I think we don’t always realise about Halloween in America, it’s about having a making yourself look crazy, mucking about in the macabre and having a laugh.

Saying all that I approached Tales of Halloween with a huge amount of trepidation. It’s directed by some of the best indie horror movie makers around at the moment, it’s also a horror anthology with each story directed by these guys and girls, sorry girl. Well one is better than nothing I suppose. The trouble with a number of these anthologies of late is that the different directors bring such wildly varying tones and styles than the stories feel more like a collection of shorts competing against each other rather than one film. The advantage something like Creepshow had was than George A. Romeo made one big film with the same asthetic, and the connecting story, though minor, helped bind all the others together. The only thing binding the Tales from Halloween seems to be the great Adrienne Barbaeu who reprises her role as Stevie Wayne the smokey voiced DJ from The Fog. This time we only here her and she’s not attacked by undead leaper pirates but it’s better than nothing.

However, as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. All the stories have a similar feel to them in that they embrace the fun element of Halloween and of the horror movie in general. Sure there are countless intestines pulled out, heads chopped off and eyes gouged out but it’s done with a light touch. The locations are mostly of the LA suburb variety so it feels like this is all one neighbourhood these stories are unfolding, with a number of characters wandering in and out of the different tales. Plus the main film showing on TV in each story is, of course, Night of the Living Dead (with a bit of Carnival of Souls thrown in for good measure). The stories all seem to have a similar look to them too so there are lots of extremely red rooms with very blue corners, harking back to the EC comics and Dario Argento at his best. Most of this seems to happen in camera rather than in a colourist’s suite in post production which leads me to believe there was some mood meeting where all the director’s agreed on certain things.

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Another thing they all agreed on (and which modern horror director worth their salt wouldn’t agree to this?) is to use as many practical effects as possible. This results in buckets of blood and some very old school looking monsters. There’s even a bit of stop motion in there which is more Morph than Harryhausen but is thoroughly charming nonetheless. These film makers really have embraced what horror movie fans enjoy and it could have been a self indulgent disaster with the amount of cameos and in jokes, however everything is so brisk and breezy that nothing is around long enough to outstay it’s wound-dripping welcome.

The stories themselves are mostly silly bits of fluff. There’s a killer pumpkin on the rampage, devil dwarves terrorising crooks, a ghost following lonely women home (which has probably the bast scare and made May jump out of her skin) and a urban legend come to life. We have aliens vs a Jason Vorhees type, murderous children and vengeful demons. Most of these stories don’t have much meat to them (although they do have a lot of MEAT to them) but all of them are at least entertaining and some of them legitimately great. As a sucker for crazy gore I particularly liked the Jason Voorhees type one which just went way over the top with the arterial spray and limb dismemberment. It also had the cute stop motion alien in it so was kind of the perfect film.

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The only one which really bucked this trend was Lucky McKee’s entry which was about being barren women and domestic abuse. But don’t let that put you off, it was still a barrel of laughs and was certainly the weirdest with Pollyanna Macintosh as an unhinged witch with multiple red arms beating her poor, suffering husband insensible. Maybe because it was saying a little bit more than most of the others (although I’m not entirely sure what) but that’s the one that has stuck with me the most.

So the Tales of Halloween that these directors have to tell us aren’t going to change the world, and probably won’t change our British minds about this festive season, but as a celebration of the day everyone stateside puts a pumpkin in their garden and send their children out to their doom, I mean for candy, it’s pretty bloody great. Even non-horror fans will enjoy this, although if you’re a non-horror fan, what the hell is the matter with you?

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